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Is it the same dance? Look familiar?


The title of chapter 16 is a slight paraphrase of the last line of William Butler Yeats poem, Among School Children. The actual last line is: “How can we tell the dancer from the dance?” Both phrasings tend to focus on the interesting problem of trying to separate process from product, personage from their creative works, calling into question whether it is even possible. In any case, the reason I chose this title is to highlight that when it comes to the impact of artificial intelligence (or, indeed, computer systems in general), a lot depends on who the actual developers are: their goals, their values, their constraints and contexts.

In the scenario of chapter 16, the boss (Ruslan) of one of the main developers (Goeffrey) insists on putting in a “back door.” What this means in this particular case is that someone with an axe to grind has a way to ensure that the AI system gives advice that causes people to behave in the best interests of those who have the key to this back door. Here, the implication is that some rich, wealthy oil magnates have “made” the AI system discredit the idea of global warming so as to maximize their short term profits. Of course, this is a work of fiction. In the real world, no-one would conceivably be evil enough to mortgage the human habitability of our planet for even more short term profit — certainly not someone already absurdly wealthy.

In the story, the protagonist, Goeffrey, is rather resentful of having this requirement for a back door laid on him. There is a hint that Geoffrey was hoping that the super-intelligent system would be objective. We can also assume it was added late but no additional time was added to the schedule. We can assume this because software development is seldom a purely rational process. If it were, software would actually work; it would be useful and usable. It would not make you want to smash your laptop against the wall. Geoffrey is also afraid that the added requirement might make the project fail. Anyway, Geoffrey doesn’t take long to hit on the idea that if he can engineer a back door for his bosses, he can add another one for his own uses. At that point, he no longer seems worried about the ethical implications.

There is another important idea in the chapter and it actually has nothing to do with artificial intelligence, per se, though it certainly could be used as a persuasive tool by AI systems. So, rather than have a single super-intelligent being (which people might understandably have doubts about trusting), instead, there are two “Sings” and they argue with each other. These arguments reveal something about the reasoning and facts behind the two positions.Perhaps more importantly, a position is much more believable when “someone” — in this case a super-intelligent someone — .is persuaded by arguments to change their position and “agree” with the other Sing.

The story does not go into the details of how Geoffrey used his own back door into the system to drive a wedge between his boss, Ruslan and Ruslan’s wife. People can be manipulated. Readers should design their own story about how an AI system could work its woe. We may imagine that the AI system has communication with a great many devices, actuators, and sensors in the Internet of Things.

You can obtain Turing’s Nightmares here: Turing’s Nightmares

You can read the “design rationale” for Turing’s Nightmares here: Design Rationale